Written by: Michael Den Boer on May 29th, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, July 30th, 1999
Director: Shinji Aoyama
Writer: Shinji Aoyoma, Izo Hashimoto
Cast: Reiko Takashima, Yutaka Matsushige, Toshio Shiba, Hitomi Miwa, Kojiro Hongo, Masatoshi Matsuo, Seijun Suzuki
DVD released: June 28th, 2005
Approximate running time: 97 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital stereo
DVD Release: Artsmagic
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $24.95
Miyaki Murakami (Reiko Takashima) is an embalmer who is asked to assist a Detective Hiroka (Yutaka Matsushige) in the apparent suicide of a politician’s son Yoshiko who jumped off a building. Miyaki at the persistence of the dead boy’s family agrees to embalm Yoshiko. Before she can complete the task some hoodlums broke in the hospital were she works and the only thing they left with is the head of Yoshiko. While helping investigate for the police Reiko soon discovers that one of the suspects Dr Fuji is her long lost father who she had been lead to believe died in Vietnam. Detective Hiroka follows a lead that a secret organization that is selling body parts and organs might have Yoshiko’s which ends up being another dead end. Where is Yoshiko’s head and what would posses anyone to severe it from his body?
Where to begin Shinji Aoyama’s EM Embalming is definitely a film that is nearly unclassifiable with it’s depiction of the world of Embalming a practice which is very common in the United States while it is nearly unheard of in Japan as only one percent of Japan’s population are embalmed instead of the preferred method of cremation.
The strongest theme that runs through out the entire film is that of immortal beauty whether is be in life or in the after life. In fact Rika’s obsession with her deceased boyfriend Yoshiko leads to her own demise and in death they are once again separated. Shinji Aoyama’s direction beautifully captures the nuances of the characters by adding depth the films overall subtext. Every moment feels carefully calculated as each new mystery is unveiled. Japanese cult film director Seijun Suzuki has a sizable part as one of Reiko’s co-workers. Most the scenes that show the processing of embalming do get graphic in detail and are borderline grotesque at times. The acting overall is surprisingly good which also helps convince the viewer of the surreal imagery and often fantastical nature of the films morbid subject matter. The effects are expertly executed and so much so that they could pass off as the real deal. If there is one thing that hurts things films its only weakness would be that it mixes too many elements from to many genres without ever settling on one as its foundation. This mixing of genres does add to the films strangeness factor which can become distracting when not done seamlessly.
Artsmagic presents EM Embalming in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves its original 1.85.:1 aspect ratio. The colors and flesh tones look spot on through out. There is some minor grain, still nothing that ever becomes to distracting. There are some minor instances of edge enhancement and even though details are sharp sometimes they lack the clarity. Overall the print used is in great shape with no problem with compression or artifacts. This DVD offers two audio options a Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital stereo mixes both are in the films original native language Japanese. Overall both audio tracks are in great shape with no problems with hiss or distortion with Dolby Digital 5.1 getting the slight edge for its more beefed up mix. English subtitles have been included that are easy to follow and understand. Extras for this release include six in depth filmographies/bios for the cast and the director Shinji Aoyama. Other extras include an interview which runs just shy of twenty minutes with the films director Shinji Aoyama who gives us some background details on EM Embalming and why he decided to become a director. Rounding out the extras is an audio commentary with Midnight Eye’s Jasper Sharp who is a fountain of information as he dissects the films and films that have influenced EM Embalming. Jasper Sharpe’s audio commentaries are some of the best in business and they are filled with some much knowledge that they never drop off in quality at any time during the track. Artsmagic once again gives another Japanese cult classic the kind of red carpet treatment one would expect from a company like Criterion. EM Embalming is one of the most bizarre titles that they have released on DVD to date and its high brow subject matter while it may not be for everyone it is still a film that I recommend those with a more adventurous heart seek out if for nothing more then its overwhelming originality.
For more info on EM Emblaming visit Artsmagic homepage.